IN the face of constant criticism, a death threat and relentless personal attacks, most people would retreat, pack up and go home. Not Anna Waite, surely the most controversial figure in Southend politics in years.

As councillor responsible for transport, she has recently spearheaded three major schemes to get the town moving, leading to the loss of trees in two areas of the town – Cuckoo Corner and Victoria Circus.

As a result, Tory Mrs Waite has become something of a hate figure because of her relentless pursuit of progress and steadfast determination to get the town moving.

Tree killer, “chainsaw Anna”, arrogant, spiteful and ignorant are just some of the more repeatable insults that have been hurled at her in the past three months.

But Mrs Waite firmly believes all she does is in the public interest, sticking up for the silent majority and doing what is best for the town where she was born and bred.

She said: “I only became a councillor because I was so fed up with what was happening.

“I actually care about Southend and when people start to shout at me and tell me I’m doing it wrong it is upsetting.

“I want to speak for the silent majority that so often get forgotten when these pressure groups grow up.”

Mrs Waite, 57, who lives in Barling and was born into the famous Southend Tomassi family, has a son and a daughter in their twenties, and elderly parents, and it is them Anna worries about the most when she gets negative press.

She said: “It’s quite distressing for them. If you make personal comments about a mother it’s bound to effect them. But I was the one who stood for election.

“Sometimes I have to hide the Echo from them if there is something upsetting in it.”

But as well as the public criticism in the Echo’s letters pages and the comments section of the website, Mrs Waite reveals she also receives numerous e-mails that are less than friendly.

She added: “It is not what I want when I’m sitting down to check my e-mails and watch EastEnders.”

Mrs Waite’s council portfolio includes some of the most controversial developments in Southend.

As well as the redevelopment of the roundabout at Cuckoo Corner, she has also taken the lead on changes to the road network at Progress Road, Leigh, and outside Southend Victoria station where a new town square is planned as part of the improvements.

Her critics say she doesn’t listen to her opponents’ point of view.

But Mrs Waite, who describes herself as a Southend resident first and Conservative second, insists she will listen to anyone who has something constructive to say and approaches her with respect. She said: “If people want to come and talk to me sensibly and put forward decent suggestions I welcome that. I don’t believe I have a monopoly on what’s right and what’s wrong, but I don’t like being shouted at.”

The outspoken councillor certainly takes note of some of the unfavourable letters that appear in the Echo letters page and has been known to engage in a war of words with some critics.

Maybe she could turn the other cheek rather than fanning the flames of the letter writers’ anger with a response.

She said: “Some of them I let go and others I respond to. I tend to let them go if they are harmless, but I really don’t like it when people that should know better, like other councillors, send in letters that are factually wrong.”

She says the number and the rudeness of the personal attacks has increased in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

She said: “People think they can be as rude to you as they like at the moment because of the national situation. I’m not saying people should be respectful because I’m a councillor, but they are disrespectful because I’m a councillor.”

As the only woman on the cabinet, she does wonder if there is a little latent sexism underlying some of the anger towards her.

She added: “I think there is a bit of that. I don’t think they would have gone for a man in the same way.

“I get comments about my hair or the length of my skirt. Men don’t get comments about their appearance.”

Maybe she could take a step back from the limelight, let some of her cabinet colleagues take some flack for a change?

She said: “If I don’t answer the phone every time the Echo calls then I would have less of a profile, but then I wouldn’t be putting the positive sides of the argument forward.

“My cabinet colleagues do support me behind the scenes and there’s no problems between us.

“It might be nice if they stuck up for me sometimes, but they all say Anna’s got broad shoulders! I am prepared to take the brunt of it.”